There are few celebratory rounds in the AFL fixture each year as poignant a reminder of how far this game has come as Multicultural Round. With some 14% of current AFL players coming from international backgrounds, not to mention the 11% of players who are of Indigenous descent on top of this, it is becoming more and more apparent that this game is one that traverses both geographical and cultural boundaries. This is something in which every one of us should be proud to be encompassed.
The AFL recently released the Multicultural Team of Champions, dating back to 1986. Three current players made the cut, with Daniel Kerr, Simon Black and Nick Riewoldt all selected in the side, alongside the likes of Alex Jesaulenko, Stephen Silvagni, Roy Cazaly and Dermott Brereton. Simply casting an eye over the list reveals the vast influence multicultural players have had on the competition, with a staggering 12 Hall of Fame players named. Though unfortunately, multiculturalism is not always as acclaimed as it should be in the world of AFL.
It is with frustration and disbelief that most Australians discovered the brash ignorance of a select few spectators earlier in 2013, with stories of racism and unabated vilification littering AFL arenas on a weekly basis. This is far from a new issue, though the debut of possibly the most talked about rookie-listed player prior to ever donning a guernsey in Majak Daw certainly seemed to highlight the primitive mindset of a painful minority. Though thankfully, Australia showed its true colours in our growing awe and exaltation of players such as Daw hailing from such unprecedented backgrounds.
This wonder culminated to form immense anticipation as round eight arrived, fans across the country relishing the concept of Fijian Nic Naitanui and Sudanese born Majak Daw facing off in an athletically brilliant ruck match-up. Though the two were never going to spend extended amounts of time directly opposing one another, on several occasions photographers were gifted the opportunity to capture a timeless still-frame of two of the game’s most titillating multicultural exports, competing one-on-one at the highest level. Though it is also the less recognised multicultural players for whom we take this round to acknowledge.
Kerr, Riewoldt, Zaharakis, Black, Pavlich, O’Brien, Cooney, Dal Santo, Deledio – the list goes on. All household names to AFL followers, all either born outside of Australia or with at least one parent born outside of Australia. The differing cultures and influences these types of players have on their teammates, clubs and the code as a whole can not be understated. One can only hope that the love so many occupants of this country hold for Australian rules football will only ever continue to grow, and that with that growth an appreciation of the global side of our game will flourish.
Multicultural round; a time for us to realise that the passion we’ve always had for this game is extending its reach on a global scale at a frenetic pace, and that this is a beautiful thing.